Close your eyes. Okay—wait. Don’t. Keep reading this, but pretend you’re closing your eyes while you try this little exercise:
When you read the term “startup culture,” what do you picture?
If visions of warehouse-chic, unconventional workspaces full of bustling, T-shirted employees dance in your head, you’re not too wide of the mark. Startup culture is the antithesis to the suit-and-tie, cubicle-centric, corporate norm. And there’s a strategy to that.
Startups pride themselves on their culture. In addition to the product or service they work tirelessly to perfect and provide, they also devote effort to developing who they are as an entity. They’re constantly growing and trying new things, which in turn strengthens their employees’ engagement, then strengthens the company’s street cred.
Regardless of how upscale or how casual your restaurant may be, there are some cues worth taking from the land of the startup.
Now, don’t go swapping your restaurant’s seating for yoga balls. There are other (more practical!) ways to channel the culture of startups within your restaurant’s walls—whether they’re made of trendy, exposed brick or not.
Let’s take a look at how startup culture concepts can help your restaurant establish identity, form relationships, and plan for strategic growth.
What sets your restaurant apart from the others in your city? Look beyond your incredible pasta specials, your decadent desserts, long legacy of culinary excellence, and your mastery of the perfectly mixed Manhattan.
Go deeper. What makes it unique? What sets the tone? What do you expect in your employees, and what do your customers expect from your employees? Through this exploration, you’ll begin to identify your restaurant’s values.
It’s a startup best practice to ensure that all employees have guiding principles—also known as values—for how to set priorities, make decisions, and treat customers and each other.
Here at 7shifts, we hold regular valuestorms, where we assess (and re-assess) the action-based values that makes our company tick, and what we look for in employees as we grow.
What are our “oxygen” values? They’re simple directives. Among them are the following: to be curious, be willing to share your learnings, be trusting (to get trust), and be solution-driven. Finding people that believe in and embody those values helps us perpetuate the 7shifts culture.
As put by Brian Chesky, the CEO and co-founder of AirBnb, a now-giant that found its startup beginnings (appropriately) in an apartment, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion.”
So, what does your culture look like? While it seems like a large question to ask, if you start by determining your own oxygen values, you’ll quickly create a clear picture of your restaurant’s culture —the perfect foundation for what defines what sets you apart from the rest in the eyes of customers, employees, and aspiring employees.
What’s the dream scenario? That your restaurant is more than a place your employees come to in order to leave with a paycheck. Make it a place that employees want to be in, and you’ll watch a sense of social belonging and overall engagement emerge.
Give your break room the startup treatment: set up a common table area that encourages conversation, bring in some comfortable seating, and hook up an old Nintendo in the corner.
No room for a designated break space? Plan outside-of-work events to bring your team closer—try a rec-league sports team or any fun, post-work activity that lets everyone spent time together while not working. When coworkers have fun together, the positive vibe carries through to their duties and interactions during shifts, and creates a healthy, vibrant workplace ecosystem.
Your employees work hard to take care of others for hours on end, so give them the chance to spend their break taking care of themselves. A coffee break focused on self care could be the stress-reduction hack your employees need to perform at their best.
So, remember that übercool, unconventional workspace you pictured when you thought of startups? There’s something to that. Why the astroturf and brick walls? Why the couches and the comfy clothes?
It’s all about creating a welcoming, inspiring environment. Comfortable employees are happy employees, and happy employees not only look forward to coming to work, but when they’re there, they do their best work.
Even if your front-of-house is candlelit and full of crisp, white linens, your staff-only areas can invoke a more casual vibe and inspire that same level of content happiness that working from the coveted beanbag chair in the corner of the startup can.
Online stationery company, Moo, moved into a new London office in 2016, and focused on creating a space that welcomed, in their words, “collaboration, creativity and innovation (as well as plenty of room for office chair races).” Find a way to give staff an area that they want to spend time in together and not only will they want to be there, but they’ll find themselves among friends when they arrive.
Developing relationships doesn’t just occur inside your restaurant. If you explore partnerships outside of your restaurant, your relationship-building efforts will help you gain recognition and make new connections in your community.
It’s not uncommon for startups to offer their space for industry seminars, or community events. They do these things to help nurture the community around them—the same community that nurtured them.
Look for opportunities to host events (like book launches and meetings for non-profit and professional-development groups) and to donate time and/or goods to charities that matter to your employees. And don’t forget about opportunities to promote physical fitness among your staff. Get involved with a fundraising softball or golf tournament, or enter a team in a fun run to support a community cause.
Planning for growth
If you want to do things the startup way, it’s all about living that adage about “working smarter, not harder.” That’s where tech tools come in.
Welcome technology into your front- and back-of-house operations, and you’ll be able to make smart, quick decisions based on actual data.
Where to start? Keep an eye on your management dashboard for up-to-the-hour info on your operating costs to help you identify opportunities for schedule adjustments that’ll keep labor costs under control and more revenue in your pocket.
Tap into the power of a dynamic restaurant POS system system to drill into what drives your peak times and how to boost your slumps. Place your kitchen orders electronically with an app like BlueCart that helps you reduce food waste and keep costs down. Do away with time-consuming pen-and-paper schedules and switch to employee scheduling software made specifically for restaurants.
When you let technology do the heavy lifting, you’ll not only receive helpful, data-based insights into the inner workings of your restaurant, but you’ll also free up time to devote to other managerial tasks (like brainstorming those values! 😉 ). Plus, you’ll have time get to get down and nerdy with all that awesome data—closely tracking your restaurant’s information can help you identify and capitalize on opportunities and efficiencies as you look towards a future of growth.
Startups write their own rules about who they are, what they do, and how they’ll keep doing it. They embody an entrepreneurial spirit, and make strategic, data-driven decisions in order to grow and strengthen their identity and business. That approach should sound familiar, since the restaurateur is the ultimate entrepreneur!
Your restaurant is your domain—it’s yours to customize for the benefit of your staff, your dollar, and your customers. Why not do as the startups do, and watch difference that attention to culture, relationships, and growth can make in your restaurant?